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I travel a lot and I’m kind of .. obsessive. Herewith therefore, my very favourite travel products, time-tested and iterated-upon over the past decade. Note: Yeah, I am shaking my head as I press publish here. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I am not alone: lots of people are just as weirdly fussy about this stuff as I am. Nonetheless, I reserve the right to come back and caveat stuff here if I end up being publicly shamed ;)


Scottevest travel vest with many pockets. OMG I love my Scottevest. It has 17 internal zippered pockets including ones perfectly sized for passports and ID cards, plus built-in channels for holding earbud cabling. I carry in it anything and everthing that I might need for flying: travel documents, pens, disinfecting wipes, nasal sanitizer swabs, Purell, eye drops, a tiny flashlight, lip balm, various adapters and cables, Sudafed, Benadryl, painkillers, zinc lozenges, tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, a notebook, mini-kit for repairing things, kleenex, stain removal pen, and immigration/residency documents. I wear it to and from the airport, and leave it in my suitcase otherwise.

Drawbacks. None. Zero!

Variants. There are other versions of this vest out there (like this Tilley one or this from Magellan’s) but I’ve never tried them. The built-in cabling solution is unique to Scottevest AFAIK, and that alone would keep me with that company. Annoyingly, women seem to be underserved in this category by everyone, with nowhere near the amount of product variety that men get.


Clear vinyl zippered bags from MMF Industries. I use these to collect together small things in my luggage (e.g. power cables, toiletries) so they don’t get lost. These are great — transparent, washable including in a dishwasher, and completely indestructible.

Drawbacks. None, except I wish they came in additional sizes.

Variants. A lot of people recommend just using ziplocs but I find even the thicker ‘freezer’ ones rip too easily. Mesh bags and translucent bags don’t offer enough visibility into their contents, and many offer zero protection against leakage. This bag from the Container Store doesn’t pack neatly and over time the brittle plastic creases and cracks. This Tom Binh bag has fabric sides so isn’t easily washable/wipeable. This translucent bag and this canvas bag from Arsenal are super-durable but neither is transparent and I found them a little bulky. If I need something waterproof I use these clear bags from Alosak, but they’re not as durable as the MMF one: after a few trips, they often tear under the seal.


Tiny clear plastic flip-top bottles from Muji. I have used a thousand variants of travel bottles/jars/tubes/whatever and these are the best — they’re great for carrying small amounts of stuff like cleanser, moisturizer and hair product. They don’t leak or drip. Squeezeable so you can get out all the contents. Translucent which means you can see when it’s time to refill.

Drawbacks. Mouth is slightly too narrow which means you need to use a pipette for non-liquids, or be extremely patient.

Variants. For smaller amounts or thicker products, these wee containers from Muji hold only 10g and are pretty much indestructible. For larger capacity, these Nalgene bottles from the Container Store are durable and reasonably leak-proof. These tiny ziploc bags are great for collecting together and mildly protecting small quantities of dry items like Sudafed, adaptors, USB sticks, change, buttons, stickers or jewelery, and this vitamins/medication case is rugged and compact. GoToobs are really popular but I found they leaked, and they were an awkward shape for packing. This set of stacking pill containers is also awkward for packing and breaks if you drop it, this Muji pill box is cheap-feeling and flimsy, these small Nalgene jars annoy me by having lids larger than the part you fill with product, and although these small round pill boxes from the Container Store are pretty good, they’re a hard plastic and do sometimes crack if dropped.


Packing cubes from eBags. Frequent travellers are split on packing cubes — some find them useful, while others think they waste space and weight. I like that they offer mild protection and keep my stuff organized, and a couple of times I’ve been grateful that they made repacking super-easy after my luggage got rummaged through by airport security. (Airport security people never actually open the cubes: I don’t know why.) I use them for clothes and non-fragile equipment/gear, particularly if it’s awkwardly-shaped. I pack clothes by outfit, which is great especially for red-eyes because I can pull out a single cube to change quickly at the hotel or airport.

Drawbacks. None.

Variants. I’ve tried a number of variants but they all had drawbacks. I colour-code by type-of-content, which means Rick Steves cubes and Tumi cubes, which only come in black, won’t work for me. You can’t colour-code with Ziplocs either, plus they rip too easily. I find the Eagle Creek cubes too heavy and the prominent branding bugs me. Travel folders cause wrinkles and are fiddly for repacking, and they’re best for people who are carrying multiples of things like button-downs, which I am not. Compression bags cause wrinkles and can be a hassle to repack: they’re not worth it unless you’re super space-constrained. Travel shoe bags really only fit flat shoes not heels or boots, and are usually too bulky/rigid to be useful: I try to avoid carrying extra shoes but when I need to, I just wrap them in soft bulky clothing and bury them in the centre of the suitcase.


Portable battery pack from Anker. At 20000mAh, this is the highest-capacity general-use portable battery pack I know of, and when I did the math in July 2013 it had the best charge:weight ratio on Amazon. It charges my phone and tablets multiple times before needing to be plugged in — I’ve never yet fully drained it. It lives in my suitcase: I bring it with me on day trips and long flights when I won’t have access to power, and use it sometimes in hotels or public spaces when I can’t easily access an outlet. It’s beautifully designed and built.

Drawbacks. Too big and heavy to drag around every day. Supports many laptops, but not mine.

Variants. This 13000mAh charger from Powergen is pretty good, although I like Anker’s build quality, form factor and aesthetics better. I find the Anker fits better in my bags than this boxier 12000mAh charger from New Trent, plus I’ve had multiple New Trent products stop working for me after only a year or so. This 4500mAh charger from Anker is light and small: it’s good as a backup for giving my phone a single charge and I carry it with me everywhere, but I’m not thrilled with the hideaway cable which seems fragile.


Travel adapter from Tripshell. These are well-built and durable, with no attachments to lose. I carry two or three in my suitcase and various charging kits.

Drawbacks. Because they disappear against dark backdrops, I’ve left a few behind in hotel rooms and meeting rooms. (There’s a dark red and a white version but they’re not much better.) I would love if somebody made these in a fluorescent.

Variants. There’s a Kensington adapter that’s practically identical to the Tripshell. The square all-in-one adapters always feel flimsy to me, plus they are slightly bulkier. Adapters with multiple components are too fiddly, and I lose the components.


Four-outlet power strip from Monster. I love this power strip. It’s super-useful in hotels with limited or not-very-accessible outlets, and I’ve used it frequently on planes and in airports and event venues as well. It’s compact and durable, has widely spaced outlets that let you plug in multiple adapters, the plug is flat which means it fits into tight spaces, and when you plug it in it lights up to show it’s drawing charge.

Drawbacks. Would be great if it had a swivel feature.

Variants. I’ve used a bunch of variants but this is the best. This Belkin power strip works great at home, but is too bulky for travel. This USB wall charger from ARCTIC offers similar functionality to the Monster one, but has multiple parts that can get lost and is an awkward fit in tight spaces. This Belkin travel charger offers three outlets plus USB plus surge protection but again, the form factor limits its usefulness in tight spaces. The same is true for this wall charger from Anker, which only supports USB.


People have been asking me which TED talks I’d recommend from this year, so here’s a quick rundown. I’ll start with the predictably excellent, and work my way towards the lesser-known but equally wonderful.

Larry Lessig was rousing, talking about the corrupting influence of money on American politics, which he characterizes as the root of many other problems. The talk was essentially a distillation of Republic Lost (and maybe also One Way Forward, which I haven’t yet read). Great at laying out the problem and rallying people to want to help fix it, but if you’re expecting solutions you might be disappointed — he doesn’t really chart a specific path forward, but instead points towards existing groups he says are doing good work. His talk isn’t up yet, but here’s the TED blog post.

Sugata Mitra is the “hole in the wall” guy who famously set up computers for kids to use in nooks and crannies of Delhi slums — and in so doing, proved that kids with internet access could teach themselves difficult subjects, even if they didn’t know English. This year he won the TED prize, which he’s going to use to build a virtual school staffed by volunteer “grannies” — retired schoolteachers around the world whose job is to “ask good questions and then admire the answers.” Here’s his talk.

I’d never seen Peter Singer before, and I enjoyed his thoughtful, logical talk about how to practice altruism effectively. There are lots of people who believe it’s important that public service be a significant part of everyone’s life, not just a sideline. (Like, uh, me.) So I was surprised when Singer argued that rather than taking a public service job, it might be more effective/better for a smart young person to take a highly-paid corporate job and earmark a substantial part of their salary for charity. Not a new idea, but unexpected, at least for me, from Singer. No video yet but here’s the blog post.

Dan Pallotta, who I’ve been reading for years, gave a gorgeous, measured, elegant talk about popular beliefs that inhibit the effectiveness of the non-profit sector. I don’t agree with everything he says, but his debunking of the usefulness of “overhead ratios” is dead-on and so necessary. When Erik Moeller and I were new to the non-profit sector back in about 2007, we learned about overhead ratios together and were horrified by how self-evidently useless (and obviously gameable) they are: Pallotta was one of the first sources we found that made any sense on the topic. I’ve been gratified to see his ideas get more broadly accepted over time, and I hope this talk is influential. Video’s not up yet; here’s the blog post.

The standout performance at TED this year for me was Amanda Palmer, who was spectacular. I’d loved her Kickstarter video pre-TED, and her TED talk didn’t disappoint. I know she’s controversial (she was criticized for continuing to ask local musicians to join her tour dates for free, even after making 1.2 million dollars through Kickstarter), but her message is solid regardless of the controversy. “The question isn’t how to make people pay for music: it’s how to let them pay for music.” Lots of joy and love and affirmation in her talk.

Pre-TED, I hadn’t seen Vancouver poet Shane Koyczan‘s YouTube version of his spoken-word poem To This Day, about poverty and bullying and class and the shaming of little kids. The YouTube version was animated by more than 80 volunteers and has been watched more than six million times since being posted in February — I watched it post-TED, and to be honest I prefer the TED version. (Maybe for the same reason I like books and radio better than TV — I’d rather make up my own pictures than watch somebody else’s.) The TED video’s not up yet, but the blog post about it is here.

OLPC co-founder Mary Lou Jepsen gave a great talk. Even though it was only an aside, I loved when she said, about self-medicating post-brain-surgery to become hormonally equivalent to a man in his early twenties: “I was angry all the time. I thought about sex all the time. I thought I was the smartest person in the entire world. It gave me a new appreciation for men.”[*] Her talk’s not up yet, but here’s the blog post.

University of Maryland president Freeman Hrabowski gave a beautiful barnstormer about his work helping minority students achieve graduate degrees in STEM. No video yet but here’s the blog post.

Beijing artist Liu Bolin, also known as the Invisible Man, showed slides of his work while speaking through through a translator. Liu goes to places like supermarkets and city exteriors, where he poses against the scenes and is painted in a painstaking process by his assistants, so that he fades into the background. He describes the resulting photographs as a silent protest, meant to critique the social problems accompanying China’s economic development.

I’d never heard of British architect Alistair Parvin before TED, which surprises me now that I’ve seen his talk. As a young architect Parvin wanted to democratize architecture. His talk was about what’s called WikiHouse, an open-source construction set you can use to build your own house. No video yet, but here’s the blog post.

I’d never heard of Eleanor Longden before TED either. A British research psychologist who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic at the age of 17 and who describes herself as someone who’s “been harmed by many people and remembers all their names” (I loved that phrase), she’s heard voices in her head for years, which she characterizes as not an “abstract symptom of illness to be endured, but a complex, significant and meaningful experience to be explored” and “a creative and ingenious survival strategy.” Video’s not up, but here’s the TED blog post.

Hyeonseo Lee, like 24,000 North Koreans before her, escaped to South Korea via China. In her TED talk she describes her own escape and that, a few years later, of her family members. I had just read Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy and Melanie Kirkpatrick’s Escape From North Korea, so I found this low-key talk fascinating. The TED video’s not up yet, but here is her video from TEDx Seoul.

Dutch ornithologist Kees Moeliker gave a very funny deadpan talk on his experience observing and documenting the first scientifically-documented case of homosexual necrophilia in ducks, for which he was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel prize. Here’s the TED blog post.

[*] I edited the Mary-Lou Jepsen quote to add her final sentence, because it was pointed out to me that otherwise it might sound dismissive. Unintentional!